Whenever a comedy based around women’s sexual adventures and misadventures arrives, I always settle down before it with one question: will it pass the mons pubis test? That is: does it have a single scene, moment, plot point or anything else that approaches the story of my friend, who was in bed with a man who was proving lacklustre – but unexpectedly asked her if she’d like oral sex.
Pleasantly surprised, she said yes. He promptly bent down, kissed her on the mp – “Like you would the cheek of an elderly relative” is a description that stays with me – patted her on the flank, rolled over and went to sleep.
Except for Pulling and Fleabag, the answer is rarely yes. The latest addition to the genre, Spreadsheet, an Australian import on Channel 4, but starring England’s own Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans, Hang Ups), alas does nothing to redress the balance.
Parkinson plays Lauren, a slightly chaotic divorced lawyer and mother of two trying to carve out some time between her domestic and professional commitments for as much no-commitment sex as she can find. To this end, she and her assistant Alex (Rowan Witt) have compiled the eponymous spreadsheet, replete with columns for potential peen, salient characteristics of the men attached to them, times and dates of – uh – dates, plus post-shag notes and scores.
To anticipate the traditional objection: you’re right, it wouldn’t be acceptable if the sexes were reversed. Why? You know why. Stop being disingenuous and forcing us to have the conversation about context, history, structural sexism and oppression and all the well rehearsed rest of it. Just kick back and enjoy your general privilege, ’K? Thank you! Blessings upon you!
So. It is the kind of comedy where (actual) oral sex in a car park is referred to as “dining alfresco”. It is the kind of comedy in which the lead is a tech moron so sexy messages and pictures are accidentally sent to friends and colleagues instead of hook-ups. It is the kind of comedy where some online inamoratos turn out to have been using extremely flattering profile pics. It is the kind of comedy in which all of her supposed one night stands are keen to meet up again, and one of them turns out to be the PE teacher at her children’s school. “We might need to be a little more specific in the workplace column,” she tells Alex.
Parkinson is as good as ever, within the limits of the material. And there are occasional touches that rise above the basics. Although the presence of an obtuse secretary in these things is de rigueur, Katrina Milosevic is so good as Ange, ever-admiring of her boss’s bravery (“All those apps. Competing with girls half your age and they’ve all got … the face”) that she’s almost worth the price of admission alone. A date with a man with suspected hyperspermia (opinion is divided as to whether his dating profile photo – which showcases many centilitres of unspeakableness – is the product of one or many deposits) is a new one on me. And Lauren’s family relationships – with her children (exceptionally good and genuinely charming turns from youngsters Maila Latukefu and Harper Nichols, which give such a lift to the family scenes), her sister-in-law and her ex-husband – are rather sweetly and sensitively drawn.
Despite a handful of good lines in each episode, most of the script is slightly laboured (“A black and white [profile] picture can make a loaf of gluten-free bread look mysterious,” says Alex). And, overall, the feeling you’re left with is one of faint boredom, edging into depression. Is this really the best we can do where women and sex are concerned in the year of our lord 2022? Is a mother/professional/slightly older woman hoping to get her end away without emotional investment still a valid enough premise to get behind? It feels at this point as if we’re all just still pretending that it is. Sex without commitment has been a real thing for long enough now that making it the complicating factor of a sitcom requires a collective act of disbelief before the action even begins. There’s nothing true about it, and any essentially naturalistic comedy needs to flow from some truth, somewhere.